—Fall/Fell/Fallen, Lonely Circus (France)—
In any balancing act, to fall is to fail. Acrobat Sebastian Le Guen and musician Jérôme Hoffman demonstrate the art of staying upright in Fall/Fell/Fallen, a mesmerising ‘physical dialogue’ that takes place on a blank, black stage.
Le Guen plays with planks of wood. He balances them on end and stands on top, he lets them fall with a loud bang. It is not just about his ability to balance on things, but more broadly about things that can balance and the nature of balance itself. In one particularly frustrating scene Le Guen tries to make three thin planks stand up, carefully adjusting them so that they do not fall. It takes a while. He builds paths and structures with his pieces of wood and throughout he remains impassive, pretending to an effortlessness that is betrayed by the rivulets of sweat that periodically fall from his face.
Hoffman, sitting on a swivel stool, is surrounded by bits of kit – rods and cables, boxes of stuff – that make him look as if he is in the midst of a complex science experiment. Everything is miked up – long metal rods which shimmer when washers are dropped down their lengths, the underside of the stage which picks up the sound of Le Guen’s movements. Hoffman loops these reverberations into atmospheric soundscapes. A white tightrope stretched across the stage acts like a violin string, and Hoffman remixes its resonating sound into quivering noises. When the sounds build up, this electro-percussive soundtrack intensifies the action and it sustains the tension.
From tightrope walking to a slip ‘n’ slide, each set piece has a core that is dazzling, the seed of an idea that is expressed with Le Guen’s muscularity and the penetrating percussive force of Hoffman’s music, but everything that clusters around this core is slow and detracts from the quickened pulse of those moments of spectacle. Le Guen reveals the patience and deliberation that balancing requires, and sometimes the calmness builds into excruciating tension – particularly when Le Guen is perched on the pointed end of a pole – but mostly it feeds into a general sluggishness.
There is no colour except the beige of the wooden planks. The stage is bare. There are no words. Blank space and suggestion allow the audience members to inscribe their own symbolisms onto the shapes and movements and sounds that the duo create – I saw crucifixion and Super Mario, a beach and the roof of a skyscraper. I saw Richard Hammond’s Total Wipeout.
Hoffman’s and Le Guen’s realms are disparate and don’t seem ever to fully synthesise, but both boast touches of real beauty and real skill.